Amid a healthcare crisis, India is struck by another -- one triggered by little insects that can cause great agricultural damage. Locust swarms have made their way into many states including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh. They feed on nearly all green vegetation - leaves, flowers, bark, stems, fruit, and seeds. The crops that it eats include millet, rice, maize, sorghum, sugarcane, barley, cotton, fruit trees, date palm, vegetables, acacia, banana, pines, and rangeland grasses. Here are some facts about locusts, as gathered from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States.
9 FACTS ABOUT LOCUSTS YOU DIDN'T KNOW
- A desert locust lives a total of about three to five months. This is variable and depends mostly on weather and ecological conditions. The life cycle of a desert locust comprises of three stages - egg, hopper, and adult. Eggs hatch in about two weeks (the range is 10-65 days), hoppers develop in five to six stages over a period of about 30-40 days, and adults mature in about three weeks to nine months but more frequently from two to four months.
- A female desert locust lays eggs in an egg pod primarily in sandy soils at a depth of 10-15 centimeters below the surface. A solitary female lays about 95-158 eggs whereas a gregarious female lays usually lays less than 80 eggs in an egg pod. Females can lay at least three times in their lifetime usually at intervals of about 6-11 days. Up to 1,000 egg pods have been found in one square meter.
- Desert locusts usually fly with the wind at a speed of about 16-19 km/h depending on the wind. Locust swarms can travel about 5-130 kilometers or more in a day. They can stay in their air for long periods of time. Example: (a) Locusts regularly cross the Red Sea, a distance of 300 kilometers. (b) Travelled from North-West Africa to the British Isles in 1954 (c) Travelled from West Africa to the Caribbean, a distance of 5000 km in about 10 days in 1988
- A solitary desert locust usually flies at night whereas gregarious adults (swarms) fly during the day.
- Locust swarms can vary from less than one square kilometre to several hundred square kilometers. There can be at least 40 million and sometimes as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometre of swarm.
- A Desert Locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day, that is about two grams every day. A 1 km2 size swarm contains about 40 million locusts, which eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people. This is based on a person eating an average of 2.3 kg of food per day, according to the USDA.
- A swarm the size of Niamey (Niger) or Bamako (Mali) eats the same amount of food in one day as half the respective country. A swarm the size of Paris eats the same amount of food in one day as half the population of France; the size of New York City eats in one day the same as everyone in New York and California; the size of Rome eats the same of everyone in Kenya; the size of Sydney (Australia) eats the same amount of food in one day as Australia eats in 1.5 hours.
- Locusts do not attack people or animals. There is no evidence that suggests that locusts carry diseases that could harm humans.
- People in several countries collect locusts using large nets and by other means. Locusts are usually stir-fried, roasted or boiled and eaten immediately or dried and eaten later (see some recipes below). Locusts are rich in protein. During periods of increased locust activity, piles of dead locusts can be found in the market places of many locust affected countries.